Gary Hill, Dervish, 1993-1995

Video and sound installation

Wood and aluminum structure, mirrors, strobe light, 2 video projectors, motor, speakers, computer and controlling electronics, synchronizer, 2 laserdisc players, laserdiscs and program, 2/2, variable dimensions

Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal Collection, A 97 1 I

Gary Hill, Dervish, 1993 – 1995, Video and sound installation, Collection Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay, © Gary Hill

Dervish is a work by American artist Gary Hill, born in Santa Monica (California, United States) in 1951. Part of the permanent collection of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MACM), this video and sound installation consists of the following equipment: a wood and aluminum structure, a mirrored box, a motor, two modified video projectors (strobe lamps), two laserdiscs, two laserdiscs players, a synchronizer, a graphic equalizer, a motion detector, a control box, a laptop computer, a time code reader and two speakers.


This video and sound installation is composed of a spinning mirrored box that refracts images and light onto the surrounding walls. Two modified video projectors with integrated strobe lights point directly into the spinning mirrored box creating fragments of images projected at rapid speeds in variable sequences, accompanied by an array of sounds. The image projections move horizontally on a curved wall, at times intersecting and overlapping. The sound effects (muffled incantations and broken monologues) overcome the noise of the centrifugal activity of the motor and the ventilation.


A tower (wood and aluminum structure) at the center of the piece, barely visible to the visitor, holds two modified projectors with strobe lights, a turbine engine with mirrors, a computer and a time code reader. An incandescent lamp installed behind the tower allows visitors to see it before the work is activated. The video images are projected on a semi-circular wall built specifically for this installation. Dervish uses several mechanical devices and equipment activated by a motion detector. A visitor’s presence sets off the image turbine positioned at the centre of the tower. The computer containing the artist’s code (program) sends commands to the control box signalling the speed of the image turbine and the sequencing of the video projections, strobe lights and the sound.


The control box contains several small microprocessors that are used to start Dervish and control the brightness of the incandescent lamp that illuminates the tower, the strobe lights built into the modified projectors and the rotating action of the image turbine. The motor revs from 0 to 900 RPM in a short lapse of time. This occurs several times during Dervish’s projection which lasts approximately five minutes. The two laserdisc players contain a copy of the same video but play a different sequence. The synchronizer defines the playback parameters of each player (starting images, choice of soundtrack, etc.), which makes it seem like the images are projected randomly.


The laptop computer is Dervish’s key component, since it holds the code created by the artist and determines the operation of the turbine and the projection parameters. If the computer system malfunctions, the work can no longer be exhibited. This is a problem that the MACM has had to face. Additionally, the modified video projectors with integrated strobe lights are essential components of the work’s presentation. Modified for very specific functions, their replacement would be difficult since the new projectors would require similar modifications.


A complete documentation of Dervish involves an in depth assessment of the work’s technological components and their interrelated functions. It consists of very precise installation plans with specifications presenting a logical sequence of procedures illustrated with photos and diagrams. There are detailed plans for the construction of the semi-circular wall, plans to position, assemble and anchor the tower, electrical plans for the cables running from the exhibition space to the technical booth. There are also maintenance instructions for the turbine mechanism (adjustments, motor lubrication, greasing the turbine’s taper roller bearings, etc.). Installing Dervish requires the presence of a technician from the Gary Hill Studio, needed for the fine tuning of the equipment and image adjustments. The MACM will work collaboratively with the Studio to ensure that the appropriate preservation actions are taken for long term conservation of this installation. The Studio provided a copy of the Dervish’s computer programs and code, allowing a reprogramming of the computer, if necessary.


Descriptive table of Gary Hill, Dervish